Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why Not a National Day of Rest for Cell Phones?


** When was the moment you realized your cell phone had become permanently attached to your body? Seriously.

** I've been thinking about this for several years, most recently after leaving my house for what seemed like the 50th time in five years without my cell phone. You know the drill. Five minutes after you pull out your driveway (or maybe longer) - you realize you don't have it. You spend 20 seconds worrying about whether it's as important as your purse or wallet - before you ultimately cave in - making that dreaded U-turn back to your home.

** We all know the safety reasons associated with having a cell phone within reach -- but at what point did it become a stand-in for your very existence? I don't mean "I think, therefore, I am." I mean, when did it become, "I have a cell phone, therefore I am?" When did the cellphone become freighted with such titanic meaning?

** Our love-hate relationship with wireless phones turns mostly into hate when we see the lengths people will go - to make bogus excuses to be "unavailable" - despite the fact that wireless technology has made us more reachable than at any other time in history. Turned another way, friendships have gone bad when we feel accountable to respond to every cotton-picking voice mail and inane text message that's left on our phones. (I'm dating myself, but I remember getting my first land-line phone installed in my teenage bedroom, complete with its own seven-digit number. It was a thrill. But I wasn't tied to it like a ball-and-chain. Its cord was short and I couldn't carry it into another room.)

** Conversely, our cell phones have indeed become a metaphorical ball-and-chain, leaving us with fewer excuses to be "unreachable." You tell your friends, "I'm going on vacation and I'm not bringing my cell phone, so I won't be reachable, bla-bla-bla." Trust me, they don't believe you. They further don't believe you - (even when you're telling the truth) - when you say after-the-fact, "oh, I didn't get your message, I must have run into some bad reception."

** You Verizon customers know what I'm talking about. Your company's marketing mantra is, "can you hear me now?" So if your friends know your carrier is Verizon, expect to see a raised brow (or a rolling of the eyes) if you tell them, "gee, some places in my house have bad reception, with walls made of lead where no signals (or man) can reach." Huh-huh.

** And then there's texting, which is quickly replacing e-mail. You text when: 1) you can't reach a person on the phone, 2) you don't want to bother a person with a call, 3) you DON'T want to talk to a person "live" to avoid the long give-and-take that can eat up a lot of time. Texting comes in handy, but in my view, it has single-handedly replaced whole conversations - and dumbed down the literacy level of the world.

** Texting means purposely using abbreviations and misspelled words that have become a second language. In some cases, you need another book to decode them. For example, I'm not bothered when pals use the acronym "LOL" in messages that THEY send to ME. That's an easy one to figure out. Still, the day I use the term, "LOL" in any of my OWN communiqués - will be the day you are welcome to grab a pair of pliers and pry off one of my fingernails. [Strangely though, acronyms such as "LFMAO" (laughing my a** off) or "ROTFL" ("rolling on the floor laughing") seem OK because the imagery is so vivid.] But when was the last time you found yourself "rolling on the floor laughing?" Seems pretty rare to me.

** Which leads me to ask, have you EVER gone a whole day without your cell phone to avoid being reached? I'm not asking if you've ever turned your cell phone OFF for an entire day. I'm asking if you've ever PURPOSELY left your cell phone behind, out of reach, at home, at the office, wherever. How did you feel? Liberated? Or did you get all sweaty, worried about missed calls and messages? Did you shrug and say to yourself, "well, if people REALLY NEED to get a hold of me in an emergency - they'll find a way."

** Folks, I call that last one "the passive-aggressive method of being unreachable," e.g., putting the burden of being found onto your boss, friends and family. But it's a moot point because again, nobody believes you when you say you're unreachable. Or here's an excuse people don't believe (unless you're over 90): "I don't own a cell phone." Translation: Some people can get still reach me, just not you.

** I confess I've never ditched my phone on purpose because I'm always worried about getting into an accident - or not being able to get my car started in the middle of a dangerous neighborhood...at night...alone.

** Hence we come to the proposal for a "national day of rest" for cell phones. Ironically, this would have to be spread virally first over millions of cell phones -- to get more people involved. So far, it's not gaining much traction. Why not? Make it happen on a weekend when more people are at home. With all the "green talk" that's become so fashionable these days, someone at Greenpeace or at the NRDC should come up with a list of scientific reasons to endorse a cellphone-free day that would have a positive - however negligble - impact on Planet Earth.

** Of course we'd have to make a few exemptions for true emergencies. But otherwise, what would be so bad about having a national "sleep day" for wireless phones? Make it a national holiday to free ourselves from the yoke of responsibility that comes with our cell phones. Going through a whole day without hearing someone else's obnoxiously loud and silly ring-tones would be wonderful. (BTW, why is it always somebody else's ring tones that sound narcissistically stupid - while your own ring tones sparkle with originality?) Speaking for me, myself - I prefer a ring-tone that sounds like a real phone - and not a jukebox spitting out the first four bars of an atrocious melody.

** Please, let's get on this right away. Until then, I leave you with a video that displays a pipe dream. It's a 2009 Corona Beer TV commercial. It's a pipe dream because I don't know anyone on earth who's had the courage - (or more dollars than sense) - to do what you see in the 30-second spot below.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)


  1. I like the the idea of a Cell (we call them mobiles in Australia) Phone Free Day .... we just need to nominate a day. Love that commercial as well.

  2. Yes, that's a great idea -- just nominate a day. We'd have to come up with some good reasons beyond eliminating the sound of ring tones, though. I would love for some scientist to extrapolate the benefits of a wireless-phone-free-day. I think the only groups that would be against it would be cellphone lobby.